Book review: Spicebringer by H.L. Burke

I’ve looked forward to reading Spice Bringer ever since Heidi mentioned she was working on it. I signed up as an advance reviewer just so I could get my grubby hands on the book a little sooner. Here’s what it’s about:

SpicebringerCoverSmall

A deadly disease. A vanishing remedy. A breathless journey.

All her life, Niya’s known she will die young from the fatal rasp. She survives only with the aid of vitrisar spice and a magical, curmudgeonly fire salamander named Alk. Then an ambitious princess burns down the vitrisar grove in an effort to steal Alk so she can claim her rightful throne. Joined by Jayesh, a disgraced monk, Niya and Alk must flee to the faraway Hidden Temple with the last vitrisar plant, or all who suffer from the rasp will perish.

But even as Niya’s frustration and banter with Jayesh deepen to affection, the rasp is stealing away her breath and life.

For a girl with limited time and a crippling quest, love may be more painful than death.

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As you can see, the premise is set up to be a tear-jerker, and the story pretty much is. But I still wanted to read it, because I wanted to see if the author could pull off a sad book. Most of her other books are pretty fluffy. But in the third Spellsmith and Carver book, she gave hints of being able to take characters deeper, so I wanted to see her do it.

While Spicebringer is still pretty light, there’s some surprising depth there. Niya has fantasy tuberculosis, and there’s no cure, except this magic spice that’s not supposed to be used for medicine at all. When the bad guys burn down her the little temple farm where she’s been living, she escapes with a fire salamander (he makes the seeds grow), and a seedling of a new strain of the spice that might give sick people an actual lifetime to survive. She’s trying to get to this other secret temple where the priests can grow the seedling in safety, as well as protect Alk, the bratty fire salamander.

Then there’s Jayesh, the love interest. His story is almost more interesting than Niya’s. He’s a priest of the Just God, which means that his entire life is ruled by dice rolls.  The priests of his order do nothing without consulting their god via the dice, which is kind of cool and over-powered. They’re also wicked martial artists. But Jayesh made a decision without consulting the dice, leading to a series of deaths. The dice no longer speak to him, and now he’s on a pilgrimage to try to atone for the deaths he caused.

Oh, and priests of his order aren’t allowed to marry. You can see where this is going.

So Niya and Jayesh wind up having this lovely doomed romance. He’s not allowed to marry and he’s been excommunicated from his god. She’s slowly dying of her disease. With conflict like that, the sparks start flying early on.

And there’s bad guys chasing them who want to kill the fire salamander and steal its heart for plot reasons.

The setting is kind of Fantasy India, which is fun and refreshing. Monkeys in the jungles, river rides, girls wearing robes and colored wraps over their hair, temples and foggy mountain passes.

Anyway, the book made me cry in the middle and at the end, even though it has a nominally happy ending. So if you’re the stoic type who doesn’t cry at books, this one might make you get a little bit of a lump in your throat. If you cry at books, expect to cry ugly tears at this one. But it’s such a good story. Especially if you like doomed romance stories.



 

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